Flying Tuseday June 2, 2009.

The Union Flag or Union Jack 

To celebrate June 2 1953: Queen Elizabeth II was crowned at a coronation ceremony in Westminster Abbey in London.

When King James VI of Scotland ascended to the English throne, thereby becoming James I of England, the national flags of England and Scotland on land continued to be, respectively, the red St George's cross and the white St Andrew's cross.

Confusion arose, however, as to what flag would be appropriate at sea. On 12 April 1606 a proclamation was issued:

 "All our subjects in this our isle and kingdom of Great Britain and the members thereof, shall bear in their main top the red cross commonly called St George's Cross and the white cross commonly called St. Andrew's Cross joined together according to a form made by our heralds and sent to our Admiral to be published to our said subjects." 

 The result was this flag below, now known as the King’s Colours:


Although the original design referred to has been lost, it is presumed that it was the flag which, with the addition of the St Patrick's cross, forms the basic design of the British Union Flag today. It is also interesting to note that the new flag was not universally popular nor accepted. The English were not overly pleased at the obscuring of the white field of the St George's flag. The Scots, with more justification, were upset at the fact that the red cross was laid over the white.

 The current and second Union Flag dates from 1 January 1801 with the Act of Union 1800, which merged the Kingdom of Ireland and the Kingdom of Great Britain to form the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. The new design added the red saltire cross of St Patrick's Flag for Ireland. This saltire is overlaid on the saltire of St Andrew, but still beneath the cross of St George. The Irish saltire is arranged countercharged with the saltire of St Andrew, so the white is always on the clockwise side of the red. The arrangement has introduced a requirement to display the flag "the right way up".

What is the correct Flag to be flown on land by Civilians? 

This answer was based upon a Minute by Garter, King of Arms:

"There is no Flag in existence answering to this general description. Civilians generally are not authorised to fly or display any Flag. Peers and gentlemen entitled to bear Arms have a right to fly from their Castles or residences a banner of their Arms. The Royal Standard appertains to the Sovereign alone. The Union Flag of the United Kingdom is used by authority throughout the Army and Navy, and the State Departments, usually with some modification or addition by way of distinction. The Union Flag, being the National Flag, appertains to the Nation as a whole, and cannot be considered as specially distinctive of individuals, or groups of individuals. The common practice on occasions of national rejoicing of displaying the Royal Standard and the Union Flag indiscriminately with other Flags must be regarded as an attempt to express loyalty by means of decoration. As to Public Buildings, Schools, etc - State Buildings should fly the Union Flag. Schools etc., should fly the Flag displaying their proper Arms. Municipal Buildings should fly a banner of the Arms of the particular Corporate body. The issue of a Royal Warrant touching this matter would, in my opinion, be inexpedient. Sir Arthur W. Woods."

Burning flags in protests:

 In 2006 Police chiefs urged the government to make flag-burning, amongst other offences, a new criminal offence, as part of a drive to crack down on extremists and others preaching violence and religious hate. The proposals were drawn up by Scotland Yard, and submitted to the Attorney General by Assistant Commissioner Tarique Ghaffur. He was responsible for public order in the capital as commander of central operations. 

In my humble opinion, if people want to burn flags as an expression of outrage, then they will do it law or no law, and legislation is pointless. Mr  Ghaffur should well have known that the police could and would not be able to stop it. The mere fact of arresting a flag burner may well be the spark that turns a relatively peaceful protest into a riot. We should not be offended if someone chooses to burn our flag in public; if we are offended the flag burner has achieved exactly what he/she set out to do ! 

 I am relieved that Mr. Gaffur resigned from the Metropolitan Police in 2008, albeit in controversial circumstances, and his daft suggestion appears to have been forgotten. 

The gentlemen below protesting about Salman Rushdie some years ago probably never knew they were not burning the Union Flag at all, their local flag maker being far too careless.

Get it the right way up !

 Lastly, I should mention how often the Union Jack is flown upside down. I just cycled up to Radbourne Street in Derby where a house owner regularly flies one upside down, to get a photo, but sadly he has changed it for Saint George’s Cross, so I have to illustrate this sin with borrowed photographs.

Finally, as an aside connected to the Coronation, and because I have a blog reader with a Sherwood Forester interest:

On June 2 1953 my father led the contingent from the 5th Battalion The Sherwood Foresters at the Coronation Parade in London, and here is a photo of the contingent, presumably taken at the Drill Hall at Becket Street, Derby. It is alleged that as a 2 year old I watched the parade on my family's first TV, specially acquired for the event, and was so terrified by the experience I hid under a table.

The contingent consisted of: 
Backrow, left to right:
Pte. J. Duckworth
Pte. K. Smith 
Pte. J.Stevenson 
Pte. W. Parkey 
Pte. J.Thompson 
C.Q.M.S. W. Ferguson 
Lieut.K.C.Bowmer (Queens Colour) 
Sgt. G. Mee 
Pte. R.Wade 
Pte. J. Stanton 
Pte. M. Moylan 
Pte. G. Bowmer 
Pte. R. Johnson 
Pte. R. Fairweather   
Front row, left to right: 
Pte. R. Cook 
L/Cpl. F. Holt 
Cpl. Meakin 
C.Q.M.S. T. Leighton 
Major G. S. Aspdin  (my father) 
R.S.M. H. Platt 
Cpl. C. Cook 
Cpl. L. Carran 
L/Cpl. F. Whyley 
Pte. G. Camp   

 Post script:

Thank you to my friend Birte in Munich, she sent me this equally charming photograph, from her collection, of 3 children who managed to get the flag the right way up !


  1. So that's why Mr Brown looks so glum! ;-)

  2. Just wait another few days and see how glum he looks !

  3. Check out my tribute to the fag: